23 May 2014

Further Notes Concerning Rules

Prompted by a conversation with Kevin Gallagher and Andrew Summitt.


1  Multitudo non reddit rationem unitatis suae.  If we reduce a thing to its parts or certain of its aspects or accidents, we lose the form of the whole.  To say, "a rose is petals" or "a rose is a red flower with thorny stem," etc. inevitably misses the what-ness, the quidditas of the rose.  A rose is a rose.  What it is to be a rose cannot be fully captured by anything but the full form of a rose itself.  Otherwise we cease to speak of a rose, and speak of its parts, or accidents, etc.

1.1 The principles of a definition are genus and difference: we specify a thing's general kind, and then find the shortest way of distinguishing it from all the other known instances of that kind.  Man is ζῶον λόγον ἔχον, or is a featherless biped, etc.  None of these fully capture the form of man; rather, they enable us to identify humans when we see them.  It is very silly to treat definitions as more than tools by which we identify the distinctive features of a kind, much less as the basis of a subsistent intellectual reality.

1.2 Everyone recognizes how silly it is to argue about a real phenomenon just on the basis of someone's definition of it.  The evidence of a definition flows from the evidence of the thing's nature.

1.21The proper order of conversation moves from the identification of the object to the determination of its definition.  First we name it, then we define it: this way our definition has some hope of being a real definition, and not just a conjury of the mind.  Still, even real definitions are only adequate by reference to the integral nature of the thing, which cannot be analyzed away.

1.22 If this reference is forgotten, and the definition gains preeminence over the nature it seeks to render intelligible, then the science of which the definition forms a part will gradually cease to be a science of things, and become a science of ideas.

2  To mark the proper excellence of a thing by reference to its parts or certain of its aspects would be to reduce the fullness of the form to parts or aspects, and thereby to deny the real integrity of that form, its unity and reality.  Just as there cannot be a full answer to "What is a rose?" that does not amount to saying "That is a rose," or "A rose is a rose," in the same way, there cannot be a full answer to "What is a good rose?" that does not amount to "That is a good rose," or "A good rose is a good rose."

3  All of the modern materialisms fall into this error: they lose the form of the whole out of a zeal for first principles in the material order.  Modern ethics are the same: everywhere the attempt is made to reduce the goodness of the human act to certain of its aspects (obedience, consistency, sincerity, pleasure), and in the process they lose what it is to be a good man, which can only be discovered in good men.

3.01 The decisive ethical judgments of our age are all reducible to the question: "Does it shorten the number of years in a person's life, or decrease the quantity of stuff consumed in the course of those years?"  One's life is no longer seen as a unity, but as temporal matter for the enjoyment and consumption of discrete pleasures.  The goodness of humanity is seen as an extrinsic goodness, and not the perfection of one's nature.

3.1 One often hears in moral arguments the response, "But if you cannot give an explicit and absolute definition of your theory, or a linear argument from first principles, then what you are saying is mere ignorance and prejudice."  The proper answer is: "My principle is the thing itself, and my argument is the evidence of its nature."

3.11 The opponent lives in a world of words; good conversations happen among those acquainted not just with words and their logic, but with things and their natures.

3.2 As a result of the realization that the ultimate response must be something like this, there has been considerable handwringing (cf. Cunningham's collection on Intractable Disputes).  Does this mean that arguments cannot settle disputes between those who differ concerning the nature of the thing discussed?  Yes, it does, because apprehension is the principle of the judgments out of which the arguments are made.  Such disputes can only be settled by seeing.

4  The promulgation of the New Law is not in a new list of rules, but a man, Jesus Christ, whose form of life we share by grace, by union in his body the Church, and by imitation.  (See, among other places,  John 14:6; 2 Cor 3:3; ST Ia IIae q.106 a.1, IIIa q.42 a.4)

5  Summary principle: The rule of the perfection of a species cannot be other than an individual within that species.